The Ancient Stone Implements, Weapons, and Ornaments of Great Britain/Chapter 3
IMPLEMENTS OF THE NEOLITHIC PERIOD.
The name of Celt, which has long been given to hatchets, adzes, or chisels of stone, is so well known and has been so universally employed, that though its use has at times led to considerable misapprehension, I have thought it best to retain it. It has been fancied by some that the name bore reference to the Celtic people, by whom the implements were supposed to have been made; and among those who have thought fit to adopt the modern fashion of calling the Celts "Kelts" there have been not a few who have given the instruments the novel name of "kelts" also. In the same manner, many French antiquaries have given the plural form of the word as Celtæ. Notwithstanding this misapprehension, there can be no doubt as to the derivation of the word, it being no other than the English form of the doubtful Latin word Celtis or Celtes, a chisel. This word, however, is curiously enough almost an ἅπαξλεγόμενον in this sense, being best known through the Vulgate translation of Job, though it is repeated in a forged inscription recorded by Gruter and Aldus. The usual derivation given is à cælando, and it is regarded as the equivalent of cælum. The first use of the term that I have met with, as applied to antiquities, is in Beger's "Thesaurus Brandenburgicus," 1696, where a bronze celt, adapted for insertion in its haft, is described under the name of Celtes.
I have said that the word celte, which occurs in the Vulgate, is of doubtful authenticity. Mr. Knight Watson, in a paper communicated to the Society of Antiquaries, has shown that the reading in many MSS. is certe, and the question has been fully discussed by Mr. J. A. Picton, Mr. E. Marshall, Dr. M. Much, and others. K. v. Becker suggests that the error in writing celte for certe originated between A.D. 800 and 1400, and he points out that Conrad Pickel, the poet laureate, who died in 1508, latinized his surname by Celtes. Treating the subject as one of probability, it appears much more unlikely that a scribe should place a new-fangled word celte in the place of such a well-known word as certe, than that certe should have been substituted for a word that had become obsolete. I am, therefore, unwilling absolutely to condemn the word, especially having regard to there being a recognized equivalent in Latin, Cælum.
It has been suggested that there may originally have been some connection between the Latin celtis and the British or Welsh cellt, a flint; but this seems rather an instance of fortuitous resemblance than of affinity. A Welsh triad says there are three hard things in the world—Maen Cellt (a flint stone), steel, and a miser's heart.
The general form of stone celts is well known, being usually that of blades, approaching an oval in section, with the sides more or less straight, and one end broader and also sharper than the other. In length they vary from about two inches to as much as sixteen inches. I do not, however, propose to enter at once into any description of the varieties in their form and character, but to pass in review some of the opinions that have been held concerning their nature and origin.
One of the most universal of these is a belief, which may almost be described as having been held "semper, ubique et ab omnibus," in their having been thunderbolts.
"The country folks of the West of England still hold that the 'thunder-axes' they find, once fell from the sky." In Cornwall they still have medical virtues assigned to them; the water in which "a thunderbolt," or celt, has been boiled being a specific for rheumatism. In the North of England, and in parts of Scotland, they are known as thunderbolts, and, like flint arrow-heads, are supposed to have preservative virtues, especially against diseases of cattle. In Ireland the same superstition prevails, and I have myself known an instance where, on account of its healing powers, a stone celt was lent among neighbours to place in the troughs from which cattle drank.
In the British Museum is a thin highly polished celt of jadeite, reputed to be from Scotland, in form like Fig. 52, mounted in a silver frame, and with a hole bored through it at either end. It is said to have been attached to a belt and worn round the waist as a cure for renal affections, against which the material nephrite was a sovereign remedy.
In most parts of France, and in the Channel Islands, the stone celt is known by no other name than "Coin de foudre," or "Pierre de tonnerre"; and Mr. F. C. Lukis gives an instance of a flint celt having been found near the spot where a signal-staff had been struck by lightning, which was proved to have been the bolt by its peculiar smell when broken. M. Ed. Jacquard has written an interesting paper on "Céraunies ou pierres de tonnerre."
In Brittany a stone celt is frequently thrown into the well for purifying the water or securing a continued supply; and in Savoy it is not rare to find one of these instruments rolled up in the wool of the sheep, or the hair of the goat, for good luck, or for the prevention of the rot or putrid decay.
In Sweden they are preserved as a protection against lightning, being regarded as the stone-bolts that have fallen during thunderstorms.
In Norway they are known as Tonderkiler, and in Denmark the old name for a celt was Torden-steen. The test of their being really thunderbolts was to tie a thread round them, and place them on hot coals, when, if genuine, the thread was not burnt, but rather rendered moist. Such celts promote sleep.
In Germany both celts and perforated stone axes are regarded as thunderbolts (Donnerkeile or Thorskeile); and, on account of their valuable properties, are sometimes preserved in families for Hundreds of years. I possess a specimen from North Germany, on which is inscribed the date 1571, being probably the year in which it was discovered. The curious perforated axe or hammer found early in the last century, now preserved in the Museum of Antiquities at Upsala, seems to have been a family treasure of the same kind. It bears upon it, in early Runes, an inscription thus interpreted by Professor Stephens—"Owns Oltha this Axe." Another, with four Runic characters upon it, was found in Denmark, and it has been suggested that the letters on it represent the names of Loki, Thor, Odin, and Belgthor. The appearance of the American inscribed axe from Pemberton, New Jersey, described by my namesake. Dr. J. C. Evans, and published by Sir Daniel Wilson, is not calculated to inspire confidence in its authenticity.
The German belief is much the same as the Irish. Stone celts are held to preserve from lightning the house in which they are kept. They perspire when a storm is approaching; they are good for diseases of man and beast; they increase the milk of cows; they assist the birth of children; and powder scraped from them may be taken with advantage for various childish disorders. It is usually nine days after their fall before they are found on the surface.
In the ruins of a Cistercian nunnery, Martha's Hof, at Bonn, a large polished celt of jadeite, like Fig. 52, was found, which had been presumably brought there as a protection against lightning. It had been placed in the roof of a granary.
In Holland, in like manner, they are known as donder-beitels, or thunder-chisels.
In Italy a similar belief that these stone implements are thunderbolts prevails, and Moscardo has figured two polished celts as Saette o Fulmini; and in Greece the stone celts are known as Astropelekia, and have long been held in veneration.
About the year 1081 we find the Byzantine emperor, Alexius Comnenus, sending, among other presents, to the Emperor Henry III. of Germany, ἀστροπέλεκυν δεδεμένον μετὰ χρυσαφίου, an expression which appears to have puzzled Ducange and Gibbon, but which probably means a celt of meteoric origin mounted in gold. About 1670 a stone hatchet was brought from Turkey by the French Ambassador, and presented to Prince Francois de Lorraine, bishop of Verdun. It still exists in the Musée Lorrain at Nancy.
Nor is the belief in the meteoric and supernatural origin of celts confined to Europe. Throughout a great part of Asia the same name of thunderbolts or lightning-stones is applied to them. Dr. Tylor cites an interesting passage from a Chinese encyclopædia of the seventeenth century respecting lightning-stones, some of which have the shape of a hatchet.
In Japan they are known as thunderbolts, or as the battle-axe of Tengu, the Guardian of Heaven. They are there of great use medicinally; in Java they are known as lightning-teeth. The old naturalist Rumph, towards the end of the seventeenth century, met with many such in Java and Amboyna, which he says were known as "Dondersteenen."
In Burma and Assam stone adzes are called lightning-stones, and are said to be always to be found on the spot where a thunderbolt has fallen, provided it is dug for, three years afterwards. When reduced to powder they are an infallible specific for ophthalmia. They also render those who carry them invulnerable, and possess other valuable properties. The same is the case in Cambodia.
Among the Malays the idea of the celestial origin of these stones generally prevails, though they are also supposed to have been used in aërial combats between angels and demons; while in China they are revered as relics of long-deceased ancestors.
I am not aware whether they are regarded as thunderbolts in India, though a fragment of jade is held to be a preservative against lightning. Throughout the whole of Hindostan, however, they appear to be venerated as sacred, and placed against the Mahadeos, or adorned with red paint as Mahadeo.
It is the same in Western Africa. Sir Richard Burton has described stone hatchets from the Gold Coast, which are there regarded as "Thunder-stones." Mr. Bowen, a missionary, states that there also the stones, or thunderbolts, which Saugo, the Thunder god, casts down from heaven, are preserved as sacred relics. Among the Niam-Niam, in central Africa, they are regarded as thunderbolts. An instructive article by Richard Andrée on the place of prehistoric stone weapons in vulgar beliefs will be found in the Mittheilungen of the Anthropological Society of Vienna, and an article by Dr. A. Bastian on "Stone Worship in Ethnography" in the Archiv für Anthropologie.
The very remarkable celt of nephrite (now in the Christy collection), procured in Egypt many years ago by Colonel Milner, and exhibited to the Archæological Institute in 1868 by the late Sir Henry Lefroy, F.R.S., affords another instance of the superstitions attaching to these instruments, and has been the subject of a very interesting memoir by the late Mr. C. W. King, the well-known authority on ancient gems. In this case both faces of the celt have been engraved with gnostic inscriptions in Greek, arranged on one face in the form of a wreath; and it was doubtless regarded as in itself possessed of mystic power, by some Greek of
Fig. 11.—Celt with Gnostic Inscription. (The upper figure actual size, the lower enlarged.)
Alexandria, where it seems to have been engraved. It is shown in Fig. 11, here reproduced from the Archæological Journal. Another celt not from Egypt, but from Greece proper, with three personages and a Greek inscription engraved upon it, is mentioned by Mortillet. It seems to reproduce a Mithraic scene. A perforated axe, with a Chaldæan inscription upon it, is in the Borgia collection, and has been figured and described by Lenormant.
Curiously enough, the hatchet appears in ancient times to have had some sacred importance among the Greeks. It was from a hatchet that, according to Plutarch, Jupiter Labrandeus received that title; and M. de Longpérier has pointed out a passage, from which it appears that Bacchus was in one instance, at all events, worshipped under the form of a hatchet, or πέλεκυς. He has also published a Chaldæan cylinder on which a priest is represented as making an offering to a hatchet placed upright on a throne, and has shown that the Egyptian hieroglyph for Nouter, God, is simply the figure of an axe.
In India the hammer was the attribute of the god Indra as Vágrâkarti. A similar worship appears to have prevailed in the North. Saxo Grammaticus mentions that the Danish prince Magnus Nilsson, after a successful expedition against the Goths, brought back among his trophies some Thor's hammers, "malleos joviales," of unusual weight, which had been objects of veneration in an island in which he had destroyed a temple. In Brittany the figures of stone celts are in several instances engraved on the large stones of chambered tumuli and dolmens.
There are two deductions which may readily be drawn from the facts just stated; first, that in nearly, if not, indeed, all parts of the globe which are now civilized, there was a period when the use of stone implements prevailed; and, secondly, that this period is so remote, that what were then the common implements of every-day life have now for centuries been regarded with superstitious reverence, or as being in some sense of celestial origin, and not the work of man's hands.
Nor was such a belief even in Europe, and in comparatively modern times, confined to the uneducated. On the contrary, Mercati, physician to Clement VIII., at the end of the sixteenth century, appears to have been the first to maintain that what were regarded as thunderbolts were the arms of a primitive people unacquainted with the use of bronze or iron. Helwing at Königsberg in 1717 showed the artificial character of the socalled thunderbolts, and in France, De Jussieu in 1723, and Mahudel, about 1734, reproduced Mercati's view to the Académie des Inscriptions. In our own country. Dr. Plot, in his "History of Staffordshire" (1686), also recognized the true character of these relics; and, citing an axe of stone made of speckled flint ground to an edge, says that either the Britons or Romans, or both, made use of such axes; and adds that "how they might be fastened to a helve may be seen in the Museum Ashmoleanum, where there are several Indian ones of the like kind fitted up in the same order as when formerly used." Dr. Plot's views were not, however, accepted by all his countrymen, for in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, we find Dr. Lister regarding unmistakeable stone weapons as having been fashioned naturally and without any artifice. Some of the old German authors have written long dissertations about these stone hatchets and axes under the name of Cerauniæ, and given representations of various forms, which were known as Malleus fulmineus, Cuneus fulminis, Donnerstein, Strahlhammer, &c. Aldrovandus says that these stones are usually about five inches long and three wide, of a substance like flint, some so hard that a file will not touch them. About the centre of gravity of the stone is usually a hole an inch in diameter, quite round. They all imitate in form a hammer, a wedge, or an axe, or some such instrument, with a hole to receive a haft, so that some think them not to be thunderbolts, but iron implements petrified by time. But many explode such an opinion, and relate how such stones have been found under trees and houses struck by lightning; and assert that trustworthy persons were present, and saw them dug out, after the lightning had struck. Kentmann informs us how, in the month of May, 1561, there was dug out at Torgau such a bolt projected by thunder. It was five inches long, and of a stone harder than basalt, which in some parts of Germany was used instead of anvils. He also relates how near Jülich another stone was driven by thunder through an enormous oak, and was then dug up. Aldrovandus gives a highly philosophical view as to the formation of these stones. He regards them as due to an admixture of a certain exhalation of thunder and lightning with metallic matter, chiefly in dark clouds, which is coagulated by the circumfused moisture and conglutinated into a mass (like flour with water), and subsequently indurated by heat, like a brick.
Georgius Agricola draws a distinction between the Brontia and the Ceraunia. The former, he says, is like the head of a tortoise, but has stripes upon it, the latter is smooth and without stripes. The Brontia seems to be a fossil echinus, and the Ceraunia a stone celt, but both are thunderbolts. Going a little further back, we find Marbodæus, Bishop of Rennes, who died in the year 1123, and who wrote a metrical work concerning gems, ascribing the following origin and virtues to the Ceraunius—
"Ventorum rabie cum turbidus æstuat äer,
Cum tonat horrendum, cum fulgurat igneus æther,
Nubibus elisus cœlo cadit ille lapillus.
Cujus apud Græcos extat de fulmine nomen:
Illis quippe locis, quos constat fulmine tactos,
Iste lapis tantum reperiri posse putatur,
Unde κεράυνιος est Græco sermone vocatus:
Nam quod nos fulmen, Græci dixere κεραυνὸν.
Qui caste gerit hunc à fulmine non ferietur,
Nec domus aut villæ, quibus affuerit lapis ille:
Sed neque navigio per flumina vel mare vectus,
Turbine mergetur, nee fulmine percutietur:
Ad causas etiam, vincendaque prælia prodest,
Et dulces somnos, et dulcia sonmia præstat."
It was not, however, purely from the belief of his own day that Marbodæus derived this catalogue of the virtues of the Cerauniæ, but from the pages of writers of a much earlier date. Pliny, giving an account of the precious stones known as Cerauniæ, quotes an earlier author still, Sotacus, who, to use the words of Philemon Holland's translation, "hath set downe two kinds more of Ceraunia, to wit, the blacke and the red, saying that they do resemble halberds or axeheads. And by his saying, the blacke, such especially as bee round withall, are endued witli this vertue, that by the meanes of them, cities may be forced, and whole navies at sea discomfited; and these (forsooth) be called Betuli, whereas the long ones be named properly Cerauniæ." Pliny goes on to say, "that there is one more Ceraunia yet, but very geason it is, and hard to be found, which the Parthian magicians set much store by, and they only can find it, for that it is no where to bee had than in a place which hath been shot with a thunderbolt." There is a very remarkable passage in Suetonius illustrative of this belief among the Romans. After relating one prodigy, which was interpreted as significant of the accession of Galba to the purple, he records that, "shortly afterwards lightning fell in a lake in Cantabria and twelve axes were found, a by no means ambiguous omen of Empire." The twelve axes were regarded as referring to those of the twelve lictors, and were therefore portentous; but their being found where the lightning fell would seem to have been considered a natural occurrence, except so far as related to the number. It appears by no means improbable that if the lake could be now identified, some ancient pile settlement might be found to have existed on its shores.
The exact period when Sotacus, the most ancient of these authorities, wrote is not known, but he was among the earliest of Greek authors who treated of stones, and is cited by Apollonius Dyscolus, and Solinus, as well as by Pliny. We cannot be far wrong in assigning him to an age at least two thousand years before our time, and yet at that remote period the use of these stone "halberds or axeheads" had so long ceased in Greece, that when found they were regarded as of superhuman origin and invested with magical virtues. We have already seen that flint arrow-heads were mounted, probably as charms, in Etruscan necklaces, and we shall subsequently see that superstitions, almost similar to those relating to celts, have been attached to stone arrow-heads in various countries.
To return from the superstitious veneration attaching to them,, to the objects themselves. The materials of which celts in Great Britain are usually formed are flint, chert, clay-slate, porphyry, quartzite, felstone, serpentine, and various kinds of greenstone, and of metamorphic rocks. M. A. Damour, in his "Essays on the Composition of Stone Hatchets, Ancient and Modern," gives the following list of materials: quartz, agate, flint, jasper, obsidian, fibrolite, jade, jadeite, chloromelanite, amphibolite, aphanite, diorite, saussurite, and staurotide; but even to these many other varieties of rock might be added.
The material most commonly in use in the southern and eastern parts of Britain was flint derived from the chalk; in the north and west, on the contrary, owing to the scarcity of flint, different hard metamorphic and eruptive rocks were more frequently employed, not on account of any superior qualities, but simply from being more accessible. So far as general character is concerned, stone celts or hatchets may be divided into three classes, which I propose to treat separately, as follows:—
1. Those merely chipped out in a more or less careful manner, and not ground or polished;
2. Those which, after being fashioned by chipping, have been ground or polished at the edge only; and
3. Those which are more or less ground or polished, not only at the edge, but over the whole surface.
In describing them I propose to term the end opposite to the cutting edge, the butt-end; the two principal surfaces, which are usually convex, I shall speak of as the faces. These are either bounded by, or merge in, what I shall call the sides, according as these sides are sharp, rounded, or flat. In the figures the celts are all engraved on the scale of half an inch to the inch, or half linear measure, and are presented in front and side-view, with a section beneath.
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- Nature, vol. xxxii. 1885, p. 626.
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- Rev. T. J. Bowen, "Gram. and Dict. of Yoruba Language." "Smithsonian Contr.," vol. i. p. xvi., quoted by Dr. E. B. Tylor, Trans. Preh. Cong., 1868, p. 14.
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- 1882, p. 111.
- Vol. iii. 1868, p. 1.
- Arch. Journ., vol. xxv. p. 151.
- Ibid. p. 103.
- Matériaux, vol. iv. p. 9.
- Mat., vol. xi. p. 538.
- Mat., vol. xiv. p. 274. Bull. della Comm. Arch. Comunal. di Roma, 1870.
- "Quæst. Græc," ed. 1624, p. 301.
- Congrès Intern. d'Anth. et d'Arch. Préh., 1867, pp. 39, 40.
- Kruse, "Necroliv.," Nachtrag, p. 21. Journ. As. Soc. Beng., vol. v. p. 34.
- See also Tylor, l. c., p. 228.
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- "Lithographia Angerburgica," cited in Mat., vol. x. 297.
- "Hist. et Mém.," vol. xii. p. 163. Mat., vol. x. 146.
- P. 397.
- No. 201.
- Aldrovandus, "Mus. Met.," 1648, p. 607—611. Gesner, " de Fig. Lapid.," p. 62—64. Boethius, "Hist. Gem.," lib. ii. c. 261. Besler, "Gazophyl. Rer. Nat.," tab. 34. Wormius, "Musæum," lib. i. sec. 2, c. 12, p. 75. Moscardi, "Musæo," 1672, p. 148. Lachmund, "de foss. Hildeshem.," p. 23. Tollius "Gemm. et lapid. Historia," Leiden, 1647, p. 480. De Laet, "de Gemm. et lapid.," Leiden, 1647, p. 155.
- Gesner, "de Fossilibus," p. 62 verso.
- "De re metallicâ," Basel, 1657, pp. 609, 610.
- "Marbodæi Galli Cænomanensis de gemmarum lapidumque pretiosorum formis, &c." (Cologne, 1539), p. 48.
- "Hist. Nat.," lib. xxxvii. c. 9. For a series of interesting Papers on "La Foudre, &c., dans l'Antiquité," see M. Henri Martin in the Rev. Arch., vol. xii. et seqq.
- An interesting paper on "Bætuli" by Mr. G. F. Hill, is in the Reliquary and Illustrated Archæologist, vol. ii. 1896, p. 23.
- Geason, Scarce. "Scant and geason," Harrison's "England,"—Halliwell,. Dict. of Archaic Words, s. v.
- "Nec multo post in Cantabriæ lacum fulmen decidit, repertæque sunt duodecim secures, haud ambiguum summi imperii signum," Galba, viii. c. 4.
- See Arch. Assoc. Journ., vol. iii. p. 127, and Wilde's "Cat. R. I. A.," p. 72.
- Comptes Rendus de l' Ac. des Sci., 1865, vol. lxi. pp. 313, 357; 1866, lxiii. p. 1038.